With unemployment remaining slightly higher than pre-COVID levels, and workforce participation sagging, the federal government is again busting the cap on H-2B visas in order to import still more cheap, low-skill labor into the country. This, at a time when 8.9 million immigrants of working age aren’t working.
Late last year, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced he was increasing the H-2B worker cap by 20,000 for the first half of fiscal year 2022. Another 20,000 were subsequently added for the second half of the year. In a move that had nothing to do with economics, he designated 6,500 slots for migrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
This month, Congress again delegated authority to DHS to raise the H-2B semi-annual cap of 33,000 (which already includes multiple exemptions). With Mayorkas exercising this authority every time lawmakers give it, “employers have even less incentive to increase wages or offer better conditions or change recruitment practices to try to get Americans into these jobs,” the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) asserts.
While all this is happening, CIS reports that the share of U.S.-born adults (16-64) in the workforce is 73.2 percent, with even worse rates among the less educated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a still lower overall work participation figure: 63.2 percent
By CIS’s count, the 45.3 million working-age Americans not participating in the job market (and not included in official unemployment statistics) “represent an enormous supply of potential workers for employers to draw on if properly paid and treated,” CIS says.
Throwing open the floodgates to ever more foreign labor alarms even some “progressives.” Citing a growing incidence of “wage cheating,” the Center for Public Integrity worries: “Amid sharp increases in foreign workers, concerns are rising that Labor Department investigations aren’t keeping pace.”
Employers need to stop pestering Washington for an unending supply of guest workers, and instead offer more competitive pay and benefits to attract, train and develop workers who are already here and available. For Americans’ wages and opportunities to rise, cheap foreign labor must fall.